19 May 1996, that was the date of the Monaco Grand Prix. Michael Schumacher was on pole in the Ferrari F310 having once again displayed all his skills on this unique track. It was raining lightly in the Principality which only served to increase the Ferrari fans’ hopes as the German was always one of the fastest in the wet. However something which no one was expecting happened: Michael got away badly, losing the lead and while chasing Damon Hill in the Williams, he was over confident on the wet kerb at the Portier corner and ended up in the barriers. “I have made a huge mistake,” he said once he was back in the pits. “I want to thank the team for their work. I have a debt to pay to the Ferrari fans.”
The chance to repay them came two weeks later in Spain. In qualifying in the dry, setting the pace were the Williams, the dominant team that season. Hill took pole position, beating Jacques Villeneuve by four tenths and beating Schumacher by almost a second. However there was a downpour on race day. It seemed the race would have to start behind the Safety Car but at the last minute, the race director decided that it could start in the normal fashion.
At the start, the cars got away slowly due the large amount of water on the track, and among those to do worst at the start was Schumacher who was in seventh by the first corner, behind his teammate Eddie Irvine. The race director’s decision seemed to have been the wrong one, as on the first lap alone, five cars were out. On the second lap, Irvine was added to that list, ending up spinning and stalling his engine.
On lap 3, Schumacher was already fighting with Gerhard Berger in the Benetton for fourth place, although it quickly became a battle for third because in the meantime, the race leader Hill had spun. He would spin again before ending his race in the pit wall. In the lead therefore was Villeneuve, ahead of Jean Alesi in the other Benetton. Schumacher was third, having overtaken Berger on lap 4 and he began chasing down the Frenchman.
Jean was a magician in the rain but Michael was in a class of his own: in no time at all he was in the Benetton’s slipstream and on lap 9 moved up to second. Villeneuve would be next and, three laps later, Schumacher passed the Championship leader and on lap 13 he was running four seconds faster than the Canadian. Michael was totally dominant and had an advantage over everyone. On lap 14, he put in the fastest lap of the race with a 1.45.571. The fastest of the rest, Rubens Barrichello in the Jordan, was 2.2 seconds slower.
From the outside, it seemed that everything was going smoothly. In reality, Schumacher’s incredible performance hid the problems of his 046 engine, a V10 as demanded by the regulations. On lap 18, water had got in, so that it was only running on about eight cylinders, to the point where those with the sharpest hearing started to worry something was broken.
On lap 24, the engine started working normally again but seven laps later, the worrying noise returned. Michael’s advantage over Alesi behind him dropped from one minute to 45 seconds but the day was destined to have a happy ending. The F310 crossed the finish line first and Schumacher took his first win with the Scuderia, marking the start of a chapter that would only end ten years and 71 wins later, at the Chinese GP in 2006.